Social Issues

The Pink Tax and the Cost of Being a Woman

The cost of being a woman - diagram showing the menstrual cycle

I got thinking about this is a little while back when Michelle of Michelle Writer Blog did a post about National Period Day, which falls on October 19.  It’s expensive to be a woman!

Menstrual products

First you’ve got the cost of menstrual products.  In some areas, including 36 American states as of 2018, there’s even sales tax on these (as though they’re non-essential?!).  For women who do have access to these products, they’re an essential expenditure.  Over time, that can really add up, which poses a major challenge to those who can’t afford them.

What are women living in poverty supposed to do?  This is an issue in western countries but also in developing nations.  The organization Pads4Girls, which provides free reusable period supplies, estimates that 10% of girls in the Global South miss school because of their periods, and overall they miss about 20% of their school days. 

While it’s fantastic that there are charitable organizations working on this issue, there are many women and girls who don’t have access to this support.  A Global Citizen article notes that only 12% of menstruating women and girls in India have access to menstrual products.

The “Pink Tax” on Personal Care Products

In addition to the costs associated with menstruation, there are all the different personal care products where the “pink” version costs more than the “blue” version, even if it’s the exact same product.  This difference is sometimes referred to as the “pink tax”.

A 2015 New York City Department of Consumer Affairs report noted that on average, prices for women’s products were 7% higher than men’s products.  The difference for personal care products was 13%.  The report cited a 1994 State of California study that found there was essentially a gender tax that worked out to around $1350/year.

A 2018 Canadian study reported in the Financial Post found that women were paying, on average, 43% more for personal care products.

Birth Control

I couldn’t easily find any figures on a gap in birth control costs. However, while I was looking I came across this gem from a conservative policy site:

What we are left with, then, are women who are having sex with men but don’t feel comfortable talking to them about finances. Some conservatives might say this is not a government-mandate-caliber problem. But even these kinds of sexual encounters come with various kinds of non-gender-neutral expenses besides birth control. Men often pay for meals and drinks; women usually spend more time and money preparing to go out. Since the pill doesn’t address STDs, there’s also the question of who pays for condoms. Again, why are we singling out birth-control pills, available for $9 at Walmart, as the expense to gender-equalize?


While I’m over here not spending time and money preparing to go out, and pitying the poor woman who gets knocked up by this douchebag, I am spending money on tampons and assorted other paraphernalia as the situation calls for—the actual cost of being a woman.

Plus, the female reproductive system isn’t cheap to maintain.  You’ve got your pap tests, your yeast infections, your sex-related UTIs, your endometriosis, your vaginismus, your rectocele, and on, and on.

So stop taxing the damn tampons already.

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44 thoughts on “The Pink Tax and the Cost of Being a Woman”

  1. Lack of access to menstrual products is shocking.

    Re: personal care, this is what is termed economically as ‘price discrimination,’ where sellers can sell the same product to two different markets for different prices rather than sexism. It’s similar to off-peak tickets on public transport, where travelling outside of rush hour is cheaper than travelling during rush hour, because most people have to travel during rush hour and can’t change that; the service is the same, but the market is different. I suspect the reason is that women are willing to pay more than men for personal care. If the toiletry manufacturers could charge men the extra 7% rest assured they would, but I suspect a significant number of men would stop wearing deodorant (etc.) rather than pay more and that would not be outweighed by the higher profits on the rest.

    Possibly I’m being autistic and missing social cues here, but I don’t know why women don’t just buy men’s deodorant (etc.), thereby signalling to manufacturers an unwillingness to pay the higher price. If enough women stopped buying the women’s branded products, the prices would come down.

    1. I think part of why women don’t switch over to products marketed at males is that they have
      “masculine” rather than “feminine” scents. Also I think a lot of people are probably unaware of the price difference, because they’re not comparing the two side by side.

  2. We also have the pink tax; tampons and pads are considered as luxury products in terms of tax. As for birth control, when I started dating I proposed to split the bill of the pill and it worked for 2 times and then it went to the background.
    In my opinion women are more ‘targeted’ in terms of the goal public to sell a lot of care-products. Every week there will be a new shampoo that tries to get to you. Women used to do most of the house hold and shopping, so that is where that came from I think. But I feel that the economy is more inclusive now and will appeal to men more in the future.
    I avoid the pink tax where possible by using the products for men like shaving cream.
    We have a popular song that can be loosely translated as: ‘A naked woman is a monument and a naked man is still a naked man’. I guess sometimes the ‘monument’ is more expensive!

  3. Men have pressure to perform better, to earn more. A woman isn’t necessarily considered a failure if she decides to live a low-key, simple life, work part-time, live with extended family. But a 45 year old man is considered odd for doing the same. What’s wrong with him? We all wonder why he couldn’t hack it. That said, if you ignore such pressure, wouldn’t it be easier to be a man? No periods or female problems! You could go live in a van and do odd jobs, travel around, no commitments. Wheeeeee!

  4. I’ve never paid attention to what’s taxed and what isn’t when I shop! I guess I’m spoiled. But I’d reckon it’s expensive to be a guy, too! They need… thinking… uh… Huh, what a stumper.

  5. Sanitary products are taxed in the Uk too currently at 5%. Along with the rise in food banks, there is a rise in period poverty and a move to ensure products are available to those who need them.

      1. Apparently the minimum we can set is 5%, a zero rate would need EU authorisation which presumably means that all EU member states tax them too.

  6. I remember when we were super broke, I had to use old socks because I couldn’t afford tampons or pads. They’re expensive and taxed.
    I’m very happy to be done with that expense. And mess.

  7. I have stopped buying period products and use my money on birth control instead. I don’t understand why pink would cost more. Do they think they can make more money because women prefer pink? I don’t. I have never spent more money getting ready for anything. Appearance isn’t important to me when going out with anybody. When me and my boyfriend first started having sex, I was expected to get certain items to prove I was ready before switching to birth control.

    That guy is an idiot. Women aren’t sex objects

  8. When i worked at Family Dollar in Des Moines, there was a lot of tampon theft. It made me sad. And if I saw a woman stealing them, I’d honestly look away. Every woman deserves tampons or pads regardless of their financial situation.

  9. Yes – I agree. With all of this. Even when they’re not taxed, which they all too often are, pads and tampons cost a ridiculous amount of money, and the prices just keep going up. Don’t get me started on how much I had to pay for BC when I was on it (hint – it was WAY more than $9). Luckily, I have started using the new bamboo washable pads which work amazing and I just throw them in the washer when I’m done. No more having to spend all that money every month! Plus it cuts back on waste which I feel good about. But these options aren’t available everywhere and I always found it wrong to charge women so much for something they can’t really live well without!

    1. Interesting, I hadn’t heard of the bamboo washable pads. The Diva Cup is another reusable option, but it’s a fair bit of money upfront, which certainly isn’t going to work for everyone.

      1. I first learned about them in the Vagina Bible by Dr. Jen Gunter. I learned a lot in that book, actually! I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it already. As for the cost – Amazon charges about $15 for a pack of 6. So, yes it’s a little more up front (because I think most need more than 6 to get through a period) but I’ve already found it was well worth it.

  10. Great post. I’m stunned that I’ve met other women fighting to keep the tax on period products and not making them an acceptable purchase on food stamps. Thank you for shedding light on this topic.

    I was six when my mom left my very violent father. She was on food stamps and the other programs available in the late 70’s to get a woman back to work and support her child. There were many times she told stories about choosing between buying tampons or pantyhose so she could go to the job she’d begun.

  11. Being a dog costs even more than being a woman. Seriously. If you and your dog both take the same medication, the dog’s medication costs at least 2 to 3 times MORE than yours.

    Personally, I think manufacturers of pharmaceuticals are criminals. They will get as much as they can for anything and everything. And yes, tax on tampons? Seriously! But then again, have you ever priced razor blades? They can’t POSSIBLY cost that much.

  12. My birth control pills definitely cost more than $9. More like $2 a pill *and* needs to be prescribed by a doctor *and* I’ve had 3 GPs refuse to prescribe it due to their personal “morals” which they were imposing onto me. Including one lady doctor who lectured that I should be popping out kids at 26.

      1. Yeppp. She’s in the same clinic as my physical health GP so before I register, I always ask the clinic if my regular GP is in to make sure I don’t get her. She refused to refill my birth control unless I had a pap smear, but I didn’t feel safe enough to explain I’ve sexual trauma, haven’t engaged in PIV, and have pain disorders that make pap smears terrifying. And I definitely definitely would never want her to perform it on me!

  13. Great post! I agree, these products should not be taxed and the guy from the quote is an a$$h**e. I prevent the pink tax by finding coupons for my wife’s products and pairing them with rebates. Not ashamed to go into target and buy them because my wife isn’t as coupon savvy as i am.

  14. I went shopping last month for products to travel with. I was shocked at the difference in products. “Womens” products were twice the price and less ounces. A disposable men’s razor was 1.50 and a pink woman’s razor was 3.95. I was shocked. A razor for goodness sakes. Needless to say I price checked and bought all unscented men’s products. I am comfortable with my feminity to use men’s products. LOL

  15. Great post, really informative. The tax on tampons and sanitary products is ridiculous – here in the UK they found shocking numbers of young girls missing school because they can’t afford sanitary products and it’s so upsetting they have to miss out on their education because of something that can’t be helped!

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